Pope Stresses Religious Liberty for Eastern Rite Catholics

Urges Greater Understanding between Christians of Different Rites

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 12, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In his meeting with students of the Eastern rite Pontifical Seminaries of Rome, John Paul II appealed for peace, development, and religious liberty in countries inhabited by Eastern rite Catholics.

These Catholic communities, while in communion with the Bishop of Rome, differ from the Latin tradition in their various rites. According to the Pontifical Yearbook, there are five Eastern rite traditions: Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Chaldean, and Byzantine or Constantinopolitan.

Although some of these Catholics have had to leave their countries because of persecutions or political and economic problems, the majority of these faithful are in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. They are spread over a wide geographic area that extends from North Africa to Asia.

«Turning to the many countries you come from,» the Holy Father said, «I must strongly repeat the hope that peace will be ever more consolidated in that region; that fair and peaceful solutions will restore harmony and good living conditions to the populations so sorely tried by tensions and unjust oppression.»

«May the Lord illuminate the leaders of nations so that they will courageously work, with respect for the law, for the good of everyone, and for the freedom of every religious community,» he added.

The Pope exercises his ministry as Bishop of Rome to the Eastern rite Churches with the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches, whose prefect is Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, patriarch emeritus of Antioch of the Syrians.

The Holy Father applauded this congregation’s initiative to offer Arabic-speaking priests of different Eastern rites the possibility of a center of formation in Rome, at the College of St. Ephrem, to pursue their ecclesiastical studies and carry out apostolic activities.

John Paul II said this service is decisive for the «defense of the ritual identity and ecclesial and pastoral maturation» of these priests.

In particular, the Holy Father suggested «knowledge of the liturgy of the Oriental Churches and of the spiritual traditions of the Fathers and Doctors of the Christian East.»

Lastly, the Pope encouraged greater mutual understanding between Latin and Eastern rite Catholics, to grow in «the unity» of the universal Church. It is necessary to «avoid tensions between Latins and Orientals and to stimulate dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox,» he concluded.

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